Day's Mac Powell
October 15, 1996
Third Day is on the easy part of the rise to CCM "stardom." Record sales of their self-titled debut recently topped 200,000 units; their first music video, "Consuming Fire," received the 1996 Billboard Video Award in the Contemporary Christian New Artist category; they headlined a 60-city tour this fall with Ian Esklin's All Star United and Five Minute Walk's Seven Day Jesus and are currently opening for the Newsboys.
Their sound is favorably compared to mainstream sensation Hootie and the Blowfish. They play songs that vacillate between raucous southern rock and dirty alternative guitar riffs, occasionally quieting things down with some acoustic numbers. The lyrics have a blatant Christian theme and are delivered with infectious good humor by singer Mac Powell.
In the Christian pop-psychology book The Two Sides of Love, authors Gary Smalley & John Trent, Ph. D. describe four personality types: Lion--a take-charge leader, Beaver--a strong need to do things "right" and "by the book," Golden Retriever--loyal to the core, and Otter--excitable, fun-loving cheerleader types who love to yak, yak, yak. The Phantom Tollbooth spoke with an otter named Mac, the lead singer and songwriter for Third Day, and learned that Third Day is more than a 90-day CCM wonder. Their overnight success has been three years in the making, the result of a lot of wise decisions, constant touring, and their leader's personality.
Two months earlier, Linda and Shari were in the Third Day audience at World Fest II in Tinley Park, Illinois, and Mac remembered them:
Powell-I knew I'd seen you before, I just didn't know where.
Tollbooth-We were about seven feet from you when your spontaneity got the best of you, and you climbed that stack of speakers in order to get a better view of the crowd while leading them in the chorus of "Forever."
Powell-I almost couldn't get down! I really could've gotten down, but I had my microphone, and I didn't know how to put it down. I could've just jumped, but I can't jump with my microphone!
At another show, Cornerstone '96, I got a life boat, the kind you blow up, and I got in it and floated across the crowd. We do wacky stuff every once and a while.
Tollbooth-You have a really high regard for your audience. Is that your Southern hospitality and charm?
Powell-Yeah, I guess it is. It's humbling to see people come to our shows. We're just a band from Marietta, Georgia, and it's humbling to see so many people come out, and even see so many people that know the lyrics.
Tollbooth-How was Third Day formed?
Powell- Mark (Lee, guitarist) and I went to high school together, and we started the band right out of high school. It was kind of an acoustic band, the two of us and a keyboard player. Then a year later, we were looking for a drummer, and we found David Carr. We played at his church, and in return, he recorded a demo for us; he played drums and just fit in there. Then Tai Anderson came in, just to put bass down. We weren't even really inviting him to be in the band, but he never left, which was great for us because he took over the band as far as the finances go. He's definitely the band leader on the business side of things. (Brad Avery, lead guitarist, joined the group a year later.)
Tollbooth-You're the writer for the band. Do you write the music as well as the lyrics?
Powell-Yeah, I write the acoustic versions of the songs, then give it to the band, and guys come up with their parts.
Tollbooth-What kind of a writing background do you have? What is your training, your schooling?
Powell-(Laughs) I took like a 101 class in college, did just enough to pass and that was about it. I don't really consider myself a great writer; I just happen to come up with things that fit. You can't read my lyrics and say that's poetry or anything like that, and I don't approach it that way. The music is the big thing to me, and then I try to say something in the song--whether it's a clever saying I've heard or an idea that I've read in the Bible or something a preacher or a friend said. I just try to put lyrics and words that make sense, that don't sound cheesy. I don't think they're the greatest lyrics in the world, but they're not cheesy (laughter).
Tollbooth-What are your musical influences?
Powell- It's (southern rock) just one of those things when you grow up in the South, kind of like country music. A lot of people hate it, some people like it. I like it, but I've never dived into it and become this big fanatical southern rock guy. It's just what I hear.
I have this theory, and everybody kills me for saying this, but I really think if you listen to stuff that was big a couple of years ago, even last year--like Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots--all of that is glorified southern rock. It's your same basic lyrics and guitar progressions, and the low baritone vocals. It just sounds a little bit different. That's my theory, but everybody disagrees with me.
Tollbooth-You put out a very listenable CD.
Powell-I hope so. I don't know if you know the story of this CD. We did it ourselves in '94. We made a demo, then it got picked up by Gray Dot records. They added two new songs to it and released it in '95. Then Reunion records picked it up and added two more songs and released it in '96. So our next record is probably going to be the same one, with two more songs. ..(laughter)
We're really anxious to do another record. I know everybody says this, but I really think the next record is going to be a lot better. It's going to be a little bit more mature musically and lyrically, I think. Two hundred shows a year, or whatever it is, will force you to grow musically.
Tollbooth-What is the calling of Third Day?
Powell-We set out to be a worship band. Our number one focus is worship and drawing people into a time of worshipping God. That's what music is used for in the Bible, not necessarily evangelism.
I hope that we're more than just a band. Entertaining is fine. I think even providing Christian music in itself is a ministry. But I don't think that's what we're called to do. I think we're definitely meant to be something more.
I don't feel we're called to be evangelists like Billy Graham, but we're kind of stuck in that role when we go and play at a church. Of course, if that's what the youth minister wants, we feel like we need to do what they brought us in for. We don't mind that at all. I like preaching, and I like telling people about Jesus. I'm not called to be a preacher of a church, or anything like that, but I can say some words from the stage.
We want people to realize that Christianity is not just going to church on Sunday. I think a big part of our ministry is just telling people to wake up and come to God. But at the same time, the message is that there's nothing anyone can do. It's God's grace, you know, and that's so hard to try to explain to people. God gives us the love that we have for Him. It's a mystery.
Tollbooth-I get a sense that you leave some gaps (in what you do) for the Spirit to work.
Powell-Oh, yeah. We have to. We can't draw people to Christ, the Spirit has to draw them, and it's hard for me to realize that. If I give an invitation and I see no one responding, I feel like I've done something wrong. I feel like I haven't presented it in the right way. I have to realize that I'm not going to do it, it's God.
Tollbooth-It must be rough being on the road so much. Does it get old after a while?
Powell-Yeah, it's rough. I got married in July, and that's the hardest thing. I love being on the road, but being away from my wife is like the one regret I have.
Tollbooth-If you weren't in Third Day, what would you be doing?
Powell-All the guys are smart in the band, except for me. Mark and Tai went to Georgia Technological Institute, and they're really smart. Brad could do anything he wanted, and David is the same way. But I was just your regular student. I hated school; I went just because I had to. I was waiting for this to happen. What I would probably still be doing is working at Six Flags Over Georgia Amusement Park.
Mac Powell is a classic Otter--a real social animal, not too concerned with details, the type whose favorite saying is, "Trust me, it will work out." For Third Day, it has.